Work, Additional Subthemes
We have worked our way through four art genre, each in a post that considers subthemes of “work”, as that term connotes employment. The founder and chief executive officer of an influential empire of newspapers, a rural resident stops his cart horse one winter evening, a refugee from stultifying workin’ for a boss in a city quits for an easy-going life on the river, and manual laborers backbreakingly prepping a floor.
Here we consider briefly not what the selected poem, painting, picture and pop song connotes about labor but other elements of work that are less apparent in the particular pieces of art.
Money: Money is the root of all work. That is an overstatement, because many people work not to maximize their take home but because they believe in their cause, such as government servants, not-for-profit employees, artists of all stripes, clerics, and many others. But not chasing eye-popping income hardly means they are oblivious to the need for money. Everyone needs enough to live on. “Takin’ care of business” means fending for money to live.
Labor, Task, Job, Career, Profession: English recognizes gradations of work for pay with a variety of terms.
- “Labor” brings to mind migrants picking lettuce in the San Fernando valley or dockworkers unloading cargo.
- A “task” implies a short-term work activity such as repairing a clogged drain.
- A “job” suggests punching a clock, minimum wage, negligible benefits, high attrition but dependable hours for repeatable work and a paycheck. Here is where unions hold sway.
- A “career” carries with it the notion of a job performed over a number of years, such as Willie Loman the salesman. “She is a real estate broker.” “He freelances sports articles.” Those are occupations.
- A “profession” means advanced education, regulation by the state or a trade group and certification with higher prestige. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects number among the professions.
Careers and professions can define a person’s self-conception as well as their social status. All these terms occupy the gainful side of the work ledger; on the other side is death, disability, or retirement. What this taxonomy leaves out is the huge amount of crucial, unpaid work done far too much by women – “housework”.
Vacations and Holidays: In the Western world in the last century or so, workers in full-time jobs receive vacation time for which they are paid by their employer. Those who work for themselves face a challenge when they take time off or the nation pauses for a holiday because their income that day disappears or drops later. If you are paid only once the floor has no varnish, you make nothing if you take off on Bastille Day.
Aside from paid time off, in the midst of a work day, most people experience ebbs and flows of the volume or pressure. In Frost’s pastoral poem, the cart driver and his horse both indulge in a short snow break.
Unpredictable Journey: The work we currently do, whether paid or unpaid, depends on the vagaries of our past. How we make money is influenced by childhood enthusiasms, chance encounters, mergers or bankruptcies, an academic major, pandemics or spouses, a help wanted ad, the suggestion of a peer or parent, all the outcome of decisions we made that altered our work course. Job leads to job, or at least in the United States where people change careers, not to mention employers, on average between three and seven times during their working years [Note 1]. We too often look back and revise our history to justify how we came to make our living, but that reconstruction glosses over the myriad contingencies that contributed.
- Experts estimate how often people change careers during their lifetimes. This figure usually ranges from between three and seven times, based on data collected by the United States Department of Labor.
Expressions: The 42 idiomatic sayings presented alphabetically below refer to work in a figurative sense. I exclude direct uses of the theme word and proverbs. The idiomatic expressions come from my own knowledge of English and a multitude of online sources:
7esl, ABCEnglish, (https://www.aliendictionary.com/), Basic English Speaking, befluentnyc, Cambridge, Career Ride, English Eagtutor, English with a Twist, EngVid, ESLexpat, Free Dictionary, Ginseng English, GoEnglish, Grammar, High Level Listening, Idioms Online, Idioms4U, Idiom Wizard,Know Your Phrase, Learn English Today, Lemon Grad, Literacy at Work, MacMillan Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, MMMEnglish, My English Pages, Online Teachers, Owlcation, Oxford Learners, PerformDigi, Phrases, Phrase-Thesaurus, PowerThesaurus, Reverse Dictionary, Twining English Centres, Using English, and Your Dictionary.
Here are the sayings.
“all in a day’s work” (Normal and ordinary)
“bang up job” (Excellent work)
“be at work” (Influence on something)
“be worked up over” (Mental or emotional agitation due to something)
“close enough for government work” (Done just well enough)
“cold piece of work” (Someone who is difficult to deal with)
“daily grind” (the hard work that one does daily)
“dirty work” (Devious and deceptive activities)
“donkey work” (Difficult and tedious work)
“fruits of one’s labors” (what one gets as a result of hard work)
“give someone the works” (give someone everything; treat someone harshly)
“green labor” (New employees)
“grunt work/shit work” (Hard, menial labor; tedious work)
“have your work cut out” (Have much work to do to complete a particular task)
“hustle bustle” (A busy activity usually in a noisy surrounding)
“in the works” (Being prepared; being planned)
“inside job” (A crime committed by someone working or living at the scene of the crime)
“job lot” (Miscellaneous items bought or sold together in one group)
“joe job” (Menial, low class work)
“labor of Hercules” (A task that requires a huge amount of effort or physical strength)
“labor of love” (Activity which you do for pleasure more than for money)
“labor or belabor the point” (Talk about something excessively and repetitively)
“legwork” (The physically or mentally demanding work required to accomplish a task)
“scut work” (Tedious, routine chores, especially that which is menial or objectionable)
“shoot the works” (Spend all the money you have; try as much as you can to do something)
“side hustle” (Another source of income in addition to one’s primary or full job)
“snow job” (Lying or flattery to persuade someone)
“the works” (The entirety of what’s available)
“throw a monkey wrench in the works” (Disrupt or foil a plan or project)
“work a treat” (Do something perfectly or very smoothly)
“work for peanuts” (Work for very little money)
“work itself out” (A problem solved itself)
“work like beaver/mule/horse” (Struggle very hard)
“work one’s finger to the bone” (Toil hard over an extended period)
“work out alright” (Come to a good conclusion)
“work out” (Exercise physically)
“work someone over” (Attack a person repeatedly)
“work someone” (Manipulate or exploit someone or something to one’s own advantage)
“work something out” (Resolve the problem)
“work the rabbit’s foot on” (Deceive or dupe someone)
“work through something” (Stick to it until completed)
“work your head off” (Labor long and hard)
“work your way up” (Improve your position steadily over time)